Dueling rallies 2 1/2 miles apart Saturday fought over future housing in University City, pitting a youth group against established older residents.
On one corner was Our Time to Act United on Villa La Jolla Drive, demanding more housing. At Genesee Avenue and Governor Drive, older residents pleaded to put the brakes on the process.
Senate Bill 10, passed in 2021 and taking effect in 2022, made it easier for cities to zone for smaller, lower-cost housing developments.
Locally, as part of the University Community Plan Update, the City of San Diego has proposed adding between 30,000 and 35,000 new housing units to University City’s existing 27,000, which could more than double the units and boost the population significantly.
City officials have advanced the plan, the first update to the growth blueprint since 1987. But steps remain, including a City Council vote, before the plan is adopted.
Under the plan, the city would rezone sections of commercial land for high-density housing.
“This update plans more opportunities for homes, jobs and mixed-use development connected to the University of California San Diego, retail and employment centers, hospitals, health care facilities, residential areas, public spaces, and bus rapid and light rail stations,” according to www.planuniversity.org.
On Saturday morning, the youthful proponents mentioned three “immediate demands”:
- Build high-density housing near public transportation.
- Construct multi-use housing for University City’s commercial development areas.
- And develop improved public transportation, biking and pedestrian infrastructure, essential for meeting housing needs and climate goals.
“For far too long, the narrative has been controlled by the few rather than the many,” said megaphone-using Nicole Lillie, housing projects director at Our Time to Act United. “And it has been dominated by those single-family homeowners who seek to block new developments and diverse solutions to housing in their neighborhood.”
Rachel Graham, a housing and transit advocate, said amid a couple of dozen advocates: “Campus housing doesn’t help students who wish to stay in the community after graduation.”
Students will be far less transient if it were financially possible for them to remain in San Diego, she said, adding: “Increasing the supply of housing is the only way to achieve this.”
Raising the supply of housing near employment centers such as University City is a simple solution to a “staggering” problem, she said.
Down on Genesee and Governor came a different perspective.
Diane DiRe said the community has always respected and enjoyed UC San Diego students in the area.
“This is not what this is about,” she said. “It is about saving our community from more than doubling our population.”
DiRe countered the claims that the proposed housing would be financially in the reach of many people.
“They think that this growth will allow affordable housing and it won’t,” she said. “What you have to look at is the tower on the corner of Nobel in Genesee, and I mean, that’s what can happen.”
“Developers are going to come in and they’re going to be high-rent, high-end apartments, quite honestly,” Di Re said.
Another resident, Elaine (who declined to give her last name) held a sign that simply read, “Save UC.”
University City already has enough residents, said the senior. “I’m trying to save University City from being rezoned and too many people will move in.”
“It will never be the same,” Elaine concluded.
Mark Wintersmith has an 11-year resident’s perspective.
“We like it because it’s low-density, it’s walkable,” he said. “It feels like a community. It just feels like the city’s betrayed us, feels like the city has made deal,” Wintersmith said. “They come to this community to seek the community’s input. The community was very clear and very vocal on what they wanted.
“And they overruled that. And we wonder what was the point?”
Wintersmith said he has an investment in the community and is concerned that rental units will attract people who will be more transient.
“There’s a strong sense of community here. And this (plan) would erode that,” said the member of the UC Community Association.
Opponents put out a statement that lists their concerns with the plan.
- The proposed size of population increase. The population could go up from 78,000 to 143,000.
- A lack of infrastructure to support such a population increase. Opponents claim there are no provisions to add new infrastructure whatsoever for additional roadways, schools, parks, recreational facilities, libraries, fire and safety facilities and water and sewer systems. A decrease in response time from fire and police department is a worry among opponents of the plan.
- The type of housing to be built. Those against the plan predict that most of the new housing likely will be high-end luxury rentals that will be rented by high-income individuals, causing rents to go up.
- The city’s assertion that people will switch to public transportation. City planners have projected that the $2.1 billion it spent on the Mid-Coast Trolley Extension will increase public transportation and will replace auto use. Opponents believe that is unrealistic and that residents will continue to use their cars for daily errands.
- Resulting traffic congestion and safety concerns along Governor Drive. The city recently announced it plans to reduce Governor Drive to a single lane in each direction to accommodate a bike lane. Opponents believe the result would be traffic gridlock in the mornings, afternoons, and during the evening rush hour.
- The impact of upzoning of two main shopping center properties to accommodate as many as 1,200 housing units. If housing is added to these centers, zoning for the two shopping centers should remain at its current level of 29 housing units per acre or zoning for high-rise housing should be eliminated.